How’s business? Bernie Dagenais has been tackling that question throughout his career, first as a reporter and editor at the Washington Times, then as editor of the Philadelphia Business Journal, and now as president and chief executive officer of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce.
MLT: Why did you leave journalism?
BD: It was an opportunity for me to get off the sidelines, roll up my sleeves, and try to make a difference in the region.
MLT: What was your former opinion of chambers of commerce, and what do you think of them now?
BD: I’ve seen some that were strong and others that were not. To me, a strong chamber is a great connector between people, bringing together peers at different levels and working on key issues that help businesses be successful. The Main Line Chamber of Commerce is that.
MLT: Many people believe the chamber had stagnated, and that you’ve revitalized it in the past three years.
BD: Without commenting on what was here before I was, I’ll say that the chamber is now in a profitable position—and it wasn’t always. Because we now have funding, we’re able to hire and retain talented staff. That helps us improve the quality of our programming and the services we provide.
MLT: Chamber events like “Make More Save More” and the Society of Professional Women series have become must-attend propositions for many business folks. How do you create an event that works?
BD: We do this crazy thing: We ask people for feedback. We survey members about what’s important to them and how we can help their businesses. We also set the bar high in selecting presenters for the events, so attendees get a high-quality experience. We used to get 30 people at an event, and now there are 100.
MLT: How is our region’s economic health as we head into 2014?
BD: We have a strong economy that’s becoming even stronger. Manufacturing continues to be a source of growth in our region, as is the surging energy industry. We’ll see development in a lot of our towns, some of which is linked to public transportation projects like those in Ardmore and Paoli.
MLT: What’s on the chamber’s agenda for 2014?
BD: We want to create job opportunities and professional development for the most talented people in our region, so they stay in our region. The first arm of that is a new program called the Talent and Education Network—or TEN—and it’s launching in the first quarter of 2014. Our goal is to match highly qualified college interns with high-quality internships in regional businesses. We’re also expanding the Society of Professional Women, and we’re looking to do the same thing with the Leadership Main Line program.
MLT: How is the Affordable Care Act affecting businesses around here?
BD: Well, I’ll say this: It is an incredibly dense law. We’re doing information sessions, webinars, and connecting people individually with our health insurance brokerage partner. It’s a lot of work and a lot of regulations, but that’s not necessarily a negative. The jury is still out on whether it’s good or bad for businesses.